Mercedes M. Yardley: Your First Hate Mail: How Life Can Change After Working For a Magazine

A Guest Post By Mercedes M. Yardley

Once upon a time there was a girl. She wrote a cheery story about murder and sent it in to a sparkly magazine. They accepted the story. The girl joined the forum. After a while, the Gods of the Magazine asked the girl if she wanted to become a member of the staff. She thought about it and did. They lived happily ever after. Sometimes, they ate muffins together. That made it even better.

I’ve been working with Shock Totem : Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted since 2009. Although I had been writing since childhood, I was brand new to the publishing scene. It was horrifying and confusing and daunting. I wrote stories and decided that I would send them into the ether. I really had no idea what happened to them after that.

When the guys asked me if I wanted to join the ST team, I thought about it very carefully. While my initial reaction was, “How delightful! Yippee!” I knew it was a big decision. If I joined, it would be for the long haul. I wouldn’t skip away if things became too tedious or difficult. Did I like the people I’d be working with? Would the dark nature of the submissions depress me? Could I handle the enormous time commitment? And most importantly, could I work on the magazine without sacrificing my own writing?

I decided to jump in and it was a wonderful decision. Not only did my literary learning curve accelerate dramatically, but I have the opportunity to work with people who might be completely inaccessible otherwise. There are more opportunities than ever before for people interested in working for a magazine. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, here are five ways that your life might change.

  1. You check your work much more carefully.
    As harsh as it seems, you’ll realize you can be rejected because you have too many mistakes in your submission. I know! The nerve! It’s a great story and that should speak for itself! Those stupid editors!
  2. Of course mags are looking for great stories. We live for great stories. But each piece has to go through a horrifically painful editing process and if your story is rife with mistakes, well…sorry. There just isn’t enough time in the universe, is there? Of course, there are always exceptions. Perhaps your tale is the diamond in the rough, and the editors’ eyes will glow when they pull it from the debris. But why chance it?
  3. You’ll realize that time is currency.
    There simply isn’t enough of it. Your old schedule won’t cut it anymore. You’ll need to balance and juggle as well as any Cirque du Soleil performer. You’ll have to turn things down, say no, and stay in sometimes when your friends go out. It isn’t just your own work that you’re thinking of anymore; there are other authors and coworkers involved. Don’t be the weak link.
  4. People think you know stuff.
    And you will. You’ll know all about proper manuscript formatting, how to write a decent cover letter (or more importantly, how to avoid writing a crappy one), and what type of tropes are a hard sell. If you have the knowledge, the best thing to do is to share it. But you might find that you need to set limits. Some people think it’s absolutely fine to call you in the middle of the night because they want to know what the magazine guidelines are. People also watch you more carefully, and might let you know whenever they see a typo in a post. They expect more from you now that you “know what you’re doing”, and they absolutely should. Which brings me to #4.
  5. You might receive your first hate mail.
    I did, and it was initially devastating. Remember that people see you as a name on a screen and not necessarily as a person. When you put yourself out there, you lose all control of how people perceive you. They see through their own lens. Try not to take it personally (yeah, right) but save those letters in a folder for future reference if you need them. Don’t read them again, but keep them.
  6. You’ll realize that writing is a business, and therefore attainable.
    This might be the most important lesson of all. Writing was always made of magic. It’s ephemerality and gossamer butterfly wings. You wrote your story (perfectly in the first draft, naturally) and a unicorn carried it off to a publisher’s golden castle. Then you had your book, or so it seemed.Imagine my delight and relief when I discovered for myself that this wasn’t the case! Write your piece. Polish it. And then work your butt off trying to sell it. Go to conferences, write queries, meet agents and editors and fellow writers. Tenacity is your friend. So is kindness. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.
Guest Writer Bio:
Mercedes M. Yardley is a writer of whimsical horror, nonfiction, and “pretty things.” She works for Shock Totem magazine as a nonfiction editor. You can view more of her work at

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